An anti-corruption commission evaporated, the highest-paid state employee bought a Ferrari, and now Governor Andrew Cuomo is mulling the fate of his two disgraced contemporaries as federal investigators have cornered his closest confidant and “enforcer.”
On Friday, the Daily News reported that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office is investigating “potential improper lobbying and undisclosed conflicts of interest” related to Cuomo’s "Buffalo Billion" revitalization program.
Two of Bharara’s three targets are lobbyist Todd Howe and SUNY administrator/nanotechnology guru Alain Kaloyeros, who was paid $987,075 in 2014, the most in New York State. Kaloyeros's Facebook feed—full of expensive cars, huge gated homes, and idiotic Facebook memes troubling for someone supposedly so vital to state interests—was practically taunting prosecutors to scrutinize him.
The third target is someone Cuomo cannot distance himself from: Joseph Percoco, a veteran of Mario Cuomo’s administration and in the governor’s own words, "my father's third son who sometimes I think he loved the most."
You might remember him as the man in the striped shirt who blocked Zephyr Teachout from approaching the governor at the 2014 Labor Day parade.
Percoco was the governor's top assistant and confidant from 2011 until early this year, when he went to work for The Madison Square Garden Company as a senior vice president. His state salary was $175,804 in 2015, according to See Through NY.
Percoco is “right out of central casting,” according to NY1 reporter Zach Fink.
“He was the muscle. The enforcer. Willing to do things on behalf of the Cuomos…that the Cuomos themselves preferred not to do.”
Shortly after the Daily News story was published, the governor’s office sent out a statement acknowledging the U.S. attorney’s investigation, and announcing that Cuomo had “ordered an immediate full review of the program” to be led by a former federal prosecutor, Bart Schwartz.
Here is the nut of Schwartz’s statement:
The state has reason to believe that in certain programs and regulatory approvals they may have been defrauded by improper bidding and failures to disclose potential conflicts of interest by lobbyists and former state employees. The U.S. Attorney has an ongoing investigation that has revealed important information in this regard.
Was Governor Cuomo shocked that Percoco would try and capitalize on his influence? Or is this an attempt to cauterize the wound?
Fink thinks Cuomo was blindsided: “In my gut, I don’t believe Cuomo knew about any of this. I say this in part because Cuomo is just not a details guy. He is an architect, a strategist, and in some ways, a political genius. But when it comes time to get into the weeds on policy, Cuomo is not your man.”
Sources inside Cuomo's administration are also taking this tack: “The devastation is acute. Everyone is literally flabbergasted,” one told The Buffalo News.
Yet a story in the Wall Street Journal indicates that Governor Cuomo absolutely knew that Percoco was willing to take money from private interests while acting under color of state power.
Erica Orden reports that Percoco was lobbying state legislators to pass the governor’s budget in late March, months after he took the job at MSG, and in January “directed top elected officials gathered backstage for Mr. Cuomo’s State of the State address on their roles in the program.”
Days before Cuomo’s speech, the governor announced that he would not be moving Madison Square Garden as part of his Penn Station renovation, which was MSG’s position all along. At that press conference, Percoco was present and working for MSG.
Orden quotes NYPIRG’s executive director, Blair Horner: “He’s still red hot from having just left the governor’s office, and the governor should be sensitive to this because it mixes the interests of the governor with the interests of the Garden. How is anyone supposed to know who he’s working for at any given time?”
Competitive Power Ventures, a company that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Cuomo's administration to build their natural gas-fired power plant in Orange County, and also donated $80,000 to Cuomo's campaign, may have given "tens of thousands of dollars" to Percoco, Politico reports.
Today the Joint Commission on Public Ethics released a report stating that Percoco took between $50,000 and $75,000 from COR Development, a developer involved in projects in Buffalo and Syracuse, and between $20,000 and $50,000 from CHA Consulting, Inc.
"COR Development did not hire, retain or pay Joe Percoco in any capacity, and intends to fully cooperate with any investigation into this matter," a spokesperson for COR told the Syracuse Post-Standard on Friday.